Tern Island: Visions of Spinach Fairies Dancing in Our Heads

Melinda Conners at Tern Island, Hawaii--We finished off our last fresh fruits and vegetables a month ago.  We've since been relying on canned and frozen vegetables to supplement our cooking efforts.  Sometimes we have to be creative:  edamole (made from green edamame beans) instead of guacamole; frozen cauliflower instead of brussel sprouts, canned water chestnuts instead of onions.  Frozen broccoli has become our ubiquitous vegetable side dish.  What's for dinner?  Enchiladas with a side of broccoli, sesame chicken with a side of broccoli, falafel sandwiches .... with a side of broccoli.  I'm not complaining.  The food on Tern, for how remote and tiny it is, is fabulous.  Two industry-sized freezers, five refrigerators and a kitchen cupboard the size of a garage keeps us well-fed, happy, and maybe a few pounds overweight.  Fifty pounds of flour and a seemingly endless supply of butter and shortening keep the ovens busy baking bread, cookies, biscuits, cakes. 

In the past three weeks we've had about 10 loaves of fresh bakery-quality bread:  thick, crunchy crust, spongy soft inside, and we've got a sourdough starter in the works as I speak.  But, nothing compares to the sharp, loud, juicy bite of a fresh apple.  Doesn't matter what kind.  I'm particular to sweeter versions, such as Gala and Fiji, but a couple days ago I would have fallen to my knees at the sight of a green, tart Granny Smith!!!  Or how about a spinach salad, tossed with ripe red tomatoes and sharp, bitter red onions?  Oh! How the visions of fresh food flood your senses when you've been without!  And, this is only a month...nothing really.  There are field crews who go many months, four or five, without a resupply.  What visions of dancing brussel sprouts and carrots must go through their heads! 
Here you can see the plane with a flat tire! Check out the albatross nest right next to the runway. Photo: Melinda Conners.

The plane arrived yesterday.  It is always a day of mixed emotions, as though you are worried about the possible, and likely, plane-bird collision, you are giddily excited about new food, new supplies, not to mention ..."others": that is, people from the outside.  When you are on a 30-acre island with only five other people, arrivals are always exciting, whether human, feathered or furred.  We had a few grey-backed terns show up a couple of days ago, and though they do breed on the island, these few were early to arrive, and so everyone ran down to meet our new neighbors.  We also had a visiting Nasca booby, similar to the masked boobies which breed here in the hundreds, but which breeds in the tropics.  Tern Island is definitely out of it's typical range, but there are always those individuals in every bird species who push the limits of their predicted range and show up at places most unexpected, whether by mis-navigation, (being blown off course by storm or a faulty internal compass), by need (range expansion), or perhaps for the pure adventure of it, like the settlers of the American West. 

After 45 minutes of somewhat frantic runway clearing (young, non-breeding albatrosses seem to be drawn to the runway and loiter there in large and rowdy groups, like teenagers at a shopping mall), the plane arrived.  After it deftly maneuvered around and above a floating cloud of frigatebirds, it landed on the runway, screeching to a halt, and then blowing a tire.  The pilots handled the landing perfectly, keeping the plane from skidding on the damp patches of grass, and bringing it to a quick stop.  Blowing a tire on Tern means the pilots have to spend a night here and wait for a rescue plane to bring repair supplies.  So, last night we had two extra guests at our feast of pork chops, baked potatoes and spinach salad (tossed with tomatoes, red onion, and avocado).  I hope they enjoyed the meal of fresh food as much as we did!

sourdough lover...

mmmm. the sourdough can make millions i tell you. people will be clamoring to get a taste of bacteria cultured so lovingly from tern island!!! nice post!

Vegetable Adventures

Sounds like an excellent adventure! How are your albies doing?

Vegetable Adventures

The albies are fantastic! They never cease to amuse me in the colony as well as impress me when I look at the incredible distances the cover on a foraging trip. Right now, we are in the middle of the hatching phase, so we are starting to see lots of white and grey fluffy chicks underneath the adults. For me, this means the pace picks up a lot, as the albatrosses shorten their foraging trips to bring back food frequently to their growing chick, so we are deploying and recovering tags every day.